The situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, is deteriorating dramatically from day to day. Militants of the terrorist organization “Islamic State” (IS) are committing acts of outrage and atrocities on Iraqi soil, causing death and destruction to the bitterly exhausted Iraqis.
The death toll is in the thousands (servicemen killed in battle and executed by the Islamists) and there is no end in sight.
According to the Al-Fouratnewspaper, since June the terrorists have shot over two thousand soldiers. Not surprisingly, the Iraqi president Fuad Masum has urgently called on the international community to aid government forces by providing broad and effective assistance in the fight against the Islamic State.
In late June, the radicals announced the creation of a caliphate, stretching from the city of Aleppo in northern Syria to the Diyala province in eastern Iraq. Militia leader Abdullah Ibrahim al-Samarrai (also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) was appointed as the Caliph.
Incidentally, a photograph has emerged in the Western press which shows a person next to al-Baghdadi resembling none other than the infamous American Senator John McCain.
This brings to mind the famous photo of Z. Brzezinski with Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan. An “American feature” was present likewise in the biography of one of the top military commanders of IS, whose talent is credited for many victories – Sheikh Omar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili), a Chechen from the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia who received military training under the guidance of US instructors in the Georgian army in 2008 and fought against Russia as a special forces officer within Georgia’s military intelligence.
According to Arab media, the Islamic State now controls 35% of Syria’s territory, consisting of major oil fields and granaries, as well as hydroelectric installations on the Euphrates in the cities of Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. In the north-eastern Syrian province of El Hasikov, the extremists are trying to win back the Rumeylan oilfield from the Kurds. In Iraq the insurgents are dominating in almost all provinces with a majority Sunni population and they are continuing to expand their sphere of control.
Observers have called the IS phenomenon the “rebirth” of al-Qaeda. However, they note that the Islamic State is much more dangerous since it is operating in the center of the Middle East, next to huge oil and gas reserves, and not on the periphery. After several bank robberies in major Iraqi cities, the financial potential of IS has increased significantly. According to experts, the budget of this extremist organization could be about $7 billion.
Having achieved such rapid and staggering success, IS is already seeking to expand the scope of its influence and has made claims on the territories of several neighbouring countries. In particular, the objectives of the group include Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Such plans not only exist, but official Riyadh is well aware of them and this has sparked hysteria and panic among the Saudis. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud himself made a very unprecedented statement, frightening Western countries with the strength and power of the militants: “If the war on terror is neglected, I’m sure that in a month it will come to Europe, and a month later to the United States.”
Of course, such a hasty and strong statement of the Saudi King can be attributed to his fear of the insurgents who are very near the kingdom. But, as history and facts show, the Saudi leaders are capable of assessing a given situation in the right way and they always act accordingly.
And maybe the situation looks exactly like that? After all, as was reported by CBS, it’s worth remembering that about a week before journalist James Foley was beheaded (execution video made public on August 19), one of the IS supporters uploaded a video on Twitter saying: “We are already in your state, in your cities and in your streets. You are our universal target.”
Handwritten in Arabic, this slogan was featured against the background of the Old Republic Building in Chicago, a city associated with President Barack Obama.
The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers, speaking on FOX News, said that the West should be wary of foreign fighters who were trained and who fought on the side of the Islamic State. According to him, hundreds of Americans may have been trained or may have acquired combat experience within the ranks of IS. “Some of them are coming back to the United States, some are heading to Europe. This is extremely worrying because we do not know every person with an American passport who has been trained and has learned to wage war. We are unsure that the British know exactly how many militants there are in the UK. According to their figures there are about five hundred and several hundred are in Canada. What if some of them come from these countries? They hold passports allowing them to travel to the United States without any obstacles. Islamic State would want to carry out a Western-style attack to uphold the notion that it is the leading jihadist group in the world.”
How did the US administration react to these threats? And the authorities of other Western countries who are better informed and who by virtue of their position know things that the general public is unaware of? During a news conference addressing the issue of the Islamic militants President Barack Obama, unlike his closest aides and allies who have chosen to take very aggressive positions, expressed a more sensible viewpoint. He repeatedly stressed that a military response to the current developments in the Middle East would not solve the problems facing the world community. Despite pressure from his inner circle and demands for the president to take a more active stance, he tried once again to calm things down.
Obama was quoted as saying: “We still do not have a specific strategy. What we have seen in some news reports suggests that some individuals are jumping way ahead of our current position.” The President’s soothing statements in regard to the Islamic terrorists have already come under fire, not only from his political opponents, but also from his allies and aides.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had to resort to Twitter and then appear on TV to explain Obama’s position: “You see, the President has a strategy on how to deal with the jihadists in Iraq, but he has yet to decide how to deal with the same threat on the territory of Syria.”
What really became a sensation was the announcement made by the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey who proposed ending air strikes against IS militants in Syria until it became clear that “the group presented a direct threat to America.” According to Martin Dempsey, when the threat comes along “the United States will be assisted by its main allies in the troubled region, including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also expressed calm in his assessments of the situation in Iraq. On the 65th anniversary summit of the organization, he said: “We have not received any requests regarding the participation of NATO. However, I am sure that if the Iraqi government requests for help, NATO and its allies will seriously consider it.”
Perhaps some may consider such a position to be strange, however, this is not surprising when taking into account that a year ago the relatively unknown IS organization, whose fighters were armed by the United States with funds originating from several Persian Gulf monarchies, was intended to fight against the legitimate regime of Bashar al-Assad.
At present the situation in Iraq, where this powerful terrorist organization has emerged and where innocent people perish on a daily basis, is a direct result of the US occupation policy in Iraq and support for the opposition in Syria. “On the one hand, Islamic State is the direct consequence of the American invasion of Iraq, and on the other hand, it is the direct result of support for the anti-Assad movement in Syria,” according to Iraqi newspaper Al-Mashriq. Although Washington is trying to draw the line and make it appear that the emergence of IS has nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq, “these events are definitely related, the north-western part of Iraq would not have been captured if Iraq hadn’t been invaded by the US in 2003,” the newspaper points out.
Another Iraqi newspaper, Al-Rafidayn states that “the United States is the blaming party in the crisis unfolding today in Iraq, since the country supported the so-called opposition in Syria, which to a large extent was the opposition represented by the Islamist extremists. It was the US which at the time was creating the armies of Iraq and the Levant, which gained ground in Syria and then began to expand the scope of its activities and the Caliphate on the territory of Iraq. They succeeded in driving back the government troops and the Kurds and occupying more and more cities, ultimately leading to the creation a new extremist Islamic state.”
No doubt the situation in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, is quite complicated, and it cannot be solved solely by American airstrikes. “We are very concerned about what is happening in Iraq. We have long warned that the venture undertaken by the Americans and the British would not end well,” Sergey Lavrov told reporters. He recalled that over the past few years, Russia has consistently warned of the irresponsibility involved in such a policy. “Unfortunately, at present we cannot be glad that these predictions have come true,” commented Lavrov. He also stressed the importance of coordinated efforts free from double standards on the part of the international community in the fight against terrorism.
Viktor Mikhin, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.